President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday met with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang amid concerns over a supposed deal between the chief executive and China allowing the latter to do research in Benham Rise.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said, Wang and Duterte reaffirmed the stronger bilateral ties between the two countries and acknowledged the progress being made in broadening cooperation.
Wang’s visit came in the wake of revelations made last week by Duterte’s defense secretary that Chinese ships were surveying Benham Rise, a vast body of water east of Luzon which is believed to be rich in gas.
The Philippines' sovereign rights to this continental shelf was recognized by the United Nations in 2012.
Duterte’s aides had given varying responses to the incident, but the Filipino leader chose to downplay the issue, saying “things are getting great our way, so why spoil it?”
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has chosen to repair the Philippines’ ties with China, which had been strained by the South China Sea dispute under the Aquino administration.
Choosing a different approach, Duterte set aside in July 2016 an international arbitration ruling on the South China Sea favoring the Philippines. China, in exchange, restored normal ties with the Philippines and has offered billions of dollars in aid and investments.
Abella said Duterte and Wang “noted the need to focus on common interests that bring more benefits than differences,” and “reaffirmed the importance of peaceful settlement of disputes.”
Wang and Duterte also witnessed the signing of the 6-year development program. Abella said this demonstrates the “sincerity of China which he (Wang) hoped will result in concrete outcomes.”
The development plan is an offshoot of the memoranda of understanding signed by the two countries during Duterte’s visit to China in October.
During his China visit, Duterte secured $24 billion in investment and loan pledges.
According to Abella, Wang reiterated China’s commitment to follow through with agreements made during the Duterte’s visit to Beijing.